The well-known Latin proverb, Omnes viae Romam ducunt (all roads lead to Rome) does not guarantee straightforward paths, and my own was anything but. Despite spending the first two decades of my life in Germany, I never managed to set foot in the Italian capital. Another quarter century had passed in my new home in America when I visited Germany in the summer 2015, and I was determined to remedy this gap in my life experience.
With the transatlantic journey behind me, the relatively minor distance between Frankfurt and Rome remained the only obstacle. I opted for an early morning flight, to fully use the few days at my disposal for the exploration of this fabled city. Frankfurt’s airport is easily accessible on Germany’s efficient (when not on strike) public transportation system, and I arrived plenty early on the chosen day. The false alarm at the security check which resulted in an unpleasant pat-down rang in the first in a series of mishaps. In order to save time with luggage, I was traveling only with a carry-on, and foolishly had forgotten to check the list of forbidden items. Having to relinquish a bottle of sunscreen which exceeded the weight limit by one ounce, and which I didn’t replace at one of Rome’s ubiquitous pharmacies until after I had assumed the color of lobster, added new meaning to the old adage “an ounce of prevention”.
Once I reached my assigned gate, an overhead announcement directed us Rome-bound vacationers to another, since our plane was delayed, and we departed Frankfurt one hour late. Clement weather enabled the pilot to partially compensate, and the view of the Mediterranean after ninety minutes noticeably raised everyone’s spirits. The approach to Fiumicino, one of Rome’s two airports, was smooth, as was our landing, at least at first. The wheels had hardly hit the tarmac when the engines howled and, in an instance, we were airborne again. Mine was not the only face with a big question mark and a worried expression. Immediately, the flight attendant’s seemingly calm voice tried to reassure us, followed by the captain’s. When he explained that he had thought it advisable to avoid the unforeseen airplane at the end of the runway, he did not encounter any objections from his passengers. Circling, we enjoyed the bird’s eye view of the airfield once again. Traffic control (where were they a while back?) eventually cleared us to land. Since nobody had informed the ground crew of our arrival, we idled thirty more minutes, and by now everybody was standing in the aisle, luggage slung across shoulders, ready to escape.
My feet finally touched Italian soil. Only two more stages separated me from my highly-anticipated sightseeing—I had to reach downtown Rome, and check into my lodgings. Having originated from a European port within the Schengen Area, there was no passport control, and I was free to follow the signs to the Leonardo Express which departs every thirty minutes and takes about as long to reach Roma Termini, the city’s main train station.
This leg of my trip worked as planned. The terminal was teeming with travelers looking for a ride by train, bus, taxi or private vehicle. Roadmap in hand, I was able to reach the nearby hostel on foot. In spite of having talked to the manager personally a few days prior, and of having been assured that they could accommodate me for the three nights I intended to stay, there was a glitch. No bed was available. Would I mind going to their sister hostel, located in the opposite direction from the railroad terminal? I reached the second hostel drenched in sweat on this hot June day, wet hair clinging to my neck, my patience nearing its limits. Would it be possible to stay here for three nights, I asked timidly, yet hopefully, holding up my receipt from the first hostel. Well,…yes, but…
I wondered what else might go wrong. I was told that I could share a women-only four-bed room during the first night, but would have to move into a mixed twelve-bed room during the two subsequent nights. The prospect of a guaranteed roof over my head sounded great, and I felt relieved, even thankful. After all, who wants to hang on to her grievances, petty or otherwise, when the Roman Forum and Colosseum are within reach?
I shed my baggage, and my Northern European attitude, then set out to immerse myself in the Eternal City, half a day later than originally planned. Rome might be eternal, but my time was limited, and I planned to make the most of it.
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